According to Dr. Simon Medcalfe, Assistant Professor in the James M. Hull College of Business, Augusta has good reason to be optimistic about its economy.
“Augusta looks good,” he said. “It really does.”
Medcalfe, who delivered his annual Economic Forecast Breakfast on Wednesday morning, has become the area’s go-to guy when it comes to explaining the economy. In addition to the breakfast, which is attended by members of the community, including government officials, bankers, and real estate executives, he sends out a monthly email that gives an ongoing snapshot of the area’s economy. He’s also become a popular member of the local speaker circuit.
“I’ve done several talks like that,” he said. “It’s our intention to provide them with some more information to aide in their decision-making process. That kind of connection seems to be useful.”
In addition to all of this, he also has a standing monthly appointment on the “Buzz on Biz” radio show and, in the past, has been a regular contributor to the Augusta Chronicle.
So how did he become the area’s leading economic commentator?
“By default,” he said with a chuckle.
The breakfast was created by Dr. Mark Thompson, Associate Dean, Hull College of Business, seven years ago. Medcalfe took over the yearly breakfast because other members of the department had specialties in more specific areas.
“It’s not really their wheelhouse,” he said. “So when Mark left, it kind of came to me. It’s not something that’s high on the list of things the administration is looking for in terms of my job performance, but it’s always a nice outreach into the community.”
As for Augusta’s economy, he said that through last November, Augusta was the fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in Georgia for jobs growth.
“I think it’s about 4.5 percent jobs growth over the last year, and the average for the state is around 2.5, so we had a really good year,” he said. “And I see that continuing.”
The leisure and hospitality sector enjoyed exponential growth.
“They added something like 6,000 new jobs,” he said. “Something like 60 percent of the new jobs created were in leisure and hospitality.”
A lot of that growth can be attributed to people having more disposable income, he said. People stopped going out to eat during the recession, for example, and now they’re doing it again, though he wonders if that has created some oversaturation, since the area now has more jobs in leisure and hospitality than the national average.
Lower gas prices are also playing a big part in powering the local economy, he said. The lower prices are freeing up about $2,000 per family.
“Another way of looking at it – that’s a 4.5 percent pay raise,” he said.
And while the area has managed to avoid the economic peaks and valleys experienced by the majority of the nation, thanks to the dominance of the medical industry, Fort Gordon, and SRS/Plant Vogtle, he said the addition of the cyber mission at Fort Gordon might be a new area of development.
“Cybersecurity is one of those things that people are really grabbing on to right now,” he said. “It may be that driver that takes this into a growth spurt that’s not cyclical.”